Building the future of magnet schools in Nashville

by Anna Kucaj, Coordinator of Magnet Schools

It is an exciting time to work with magnet schools here in Nashville.

While magnets aren’t new to Metro Schools, we’ve recently added new ones and are developing more for the future. Two years ago we welcomed six new thematic magnet schools to the fold providing theme-based programs that engage students in STEM (Hattie Cotton, Bailey, & Stratford), museum studies (Robert Churchwell & John Early), and the entertainment industry (Pearl-Cohn).

READ MORE on thematic magnets in Metro Schools

These schools converted to magnets through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and keep us plenty busy. But we’re also gearing up to apply for the next round of funding offered by the Magnet School Assistance Program, meaning even more of our schools may offer enriching, hands-on programs like these.

Thanks to the optional schools process, we’ve had the chance to talk to students about what they like about their schools and to open our doors to parents looking to find the best fit for their children. We have also asked schools to show their interest in developing a magnet program by engaging parents, teachers, and community members in the process of identifying a theme and making a plan to serve students within their zone and across Davidson County.

It has been truly amazing to watch these groups join together and participate in conversations around new and innovative instruction that could provide even more options to Metro students and families.

Once schools have submitted their preliminary proposals, we will consult the U. S DOE guidelines and choose which schools to include in the application. We’ll work closely with those schools to develop a competitive grant application.

We believe in the theme-based magnet model. We have found that when students choose their school based on an interest in a theme, their level of engagement with the learning process increases, attendance increases, and discipline problems decline—all factors in successful schools and academic achievement.

In fact, Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School was recently named a Tennessee Reward School for being in the top 5% of schools in the entire state for annual growth.  We are exceptionally proud of the hard work of Hattie Cotton students, teachers, staff and families that made such a tremendous achievement possible.

One thing we have found as we build these new magnet programs: it’s the people involved who make the difference. We have students who come to school each morning ready to engage, teachers who participate in professional development after school and during the summer, parents who bring their child to school every day – either from across the street or across town, and partners who give of their time and resources to share their expertise.

With all of us working together, our magnet programs are becoming stronger!

What does a bank executive think about being principal for a day?

by Connie White, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Fifth Third Bank

As I walked up the stairs to start my first morning as Principal for a Day at East Nashville Magnet School, I wondered what the walls of this 80 year old school would tell me if they could talk. After my visit, again, I was curious what these walls will tell us in the next five years.

My prediction: I believe they will talk of the seniors who are better prepared, academically and socially, to be active members of society. I believe that 100% of the seniors will graduate, and even more students will gain and seize the opportunity a college education can bring. Yes I believe the walls will talk about reaping the harvest from the seeds sewn by the MNPS Paideia Lead Principal, Steve Ball, staff and teachers, in just a few years.

Why is this data geek (me), making a prediction without reviewing test scores? Engagement. Respect. Collaboration. Caring. Pride.

Yes, I saw all of that and more, when I recently had the privilege of visiting East Magnet Middle School and High School with Principal Steve Ball. I saw a team all focused on learning in an environment where students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. I saw students who were actively engaged and were taking responsibility of their quest for knowledge.

I wish you could have seen the fifth graders smile as they proudly gave articulate narratives about the outcome of a recent project using Power Point, posters, and props to make their points. Or if you’d seen every hand in the room eagerly waving to answer questions in science class, you might understand the level of enthusiastic engagement I saw. If you could hear the pride in Principal’s voice announcing in the morning call that two more seniors gained their college acceptance letters, you’d understand the caring for students. Or if you’d heard the students making their way to their next class continuously saying, “Good morning Principal Ball,” you could witness the mutual respect I experienced.

Admitting that I’d never seen such an engaged student body that seemed to have more interest in learning than social exchange at that age, I asked about it. “These students want to be here to learn,” said Principal Ball. I was somewhat astonished because in my high school days we thought about our dates, parties, and attire and talked about how we couldn’t wait to graduate to be on our own.

As we talked more, I learned that Principal Ball was responsible for bringing the Paideia education process to East Nashville Magnet Schools, a process where students actively engage in intellectual discussions and learn from each other. Using this process to discuss current issues, students also learn the art of collaboration as they learn to listen and value many ideas and opinions. I came to respect this process and understood that students could practice this process to learn throughout their life’s journey, whether in school, the business world or their community.

If you ever gain the opportunity to visit East Nashville Magnet School, I encourage you to go. I promise you, it will be worth every minute of your time to witness a team that focuses on equipping children with a good academic base, social and learning skills for life… and the academic knowledge to exceed national test scores.

Modernized Classrooms & Affordable Internet Service: Partners in closing the digital divide

Technology is in our homes, at the grocery stores, doctor’s offices, athletic events, and – most importantly – waiting for our children in college and their future careers. For that reason, it’s crucial that educational institutions teach students in a way that is relevant and trains them to use the tools that are ever-present in our daily lives.

When the National Alliance for Black School Educators (NABSE) and Promethean, a global education company, offered to donate more than $150,000 worth of classroom technology and professional development services our employees were ecstatic, and rightfully so. Those tools and that training will help our teachers work with students and begin to close the digital divide that exists between families with technology in their homes and those without.

At Napier Enhanced Option Elementary on Wednesday, the two organizations announced the donation that will help the 15 schools receiving technology and support.  Schools will receive touch-screen interactive whiteboards, hand held student response devices, and educational software. Teachers will be trained on how to best use these new tools to increase student engagement and better lead interactive lessons.

The donation will immediately turn classrooms in fifteen Nashville schools into modern-day learning centers complete with interactive whiteboards (ActivBoard), touch-screen interactive tables (ActivTable), hand held student response devices (ActivExpressions), and educational software. Schools receiving the donation include: Napier Enhanced Option Elementary, Harris-Hillman Exceptional Education School, Ross Elementary, Neely’s Bend Middle, Dodson Elementary, Old Center Elementary, Oliver Middle, Bordeaux Enhanced Option Elementary, J.E. Moss Elementary, Gower Elementary, McMurray Middle, Shwab Elementary, Caldwell Enhanced Option Elementary, Madison Middle, and the Martin Professional Development Center.

But this donation is much more than a one-time act of generosity. It is part of an annual program by NABSE and Promethean to close the achievement gap by modernizing classrooms and boosting parental engagement. Our schools were selected to receive this donation since Nashville is serving as the host city for the 40th NABSE Annual Conference (Nov. 14 – 18). Thousands of educators are spending the weekend in Music City tackling issues surrounding urban education, higher education, and exploring the role of diversity in public schools.

At the same time, but across town, Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, Mayor Karl Dean, State Representative Brenda Gilmore, John Gauder from Comcast, and Patricia Stokes from the Urban League spent the morning at a Digital Literacy Rally encouraging families to explore Comcast’s Internet Essentials program. The program provides affordable Internet services for low-income families and is meant to aid students and parents in academics, job searches, much more.

Bring the Internet home for just $9.95 a month.

While slightly more than half of our students have access to the Internet at home (56% at last count) and 14,500 families are eligible for this discounted service, only 800 families enrolled in the program during its first year. Hoping to boost participation, Comcast is promoting the program to the community and is funding the Urban League’s Project Ready Digital Academy with a $15,000 grant. The Academy will teach skills in digital literacy, computer programming and college readiness to under-served youth.

To say the support and commitment of these businesses and community partners is worthy of a big pat on the back is an understatement. These donations, programs and partnerships are setting the stage for us to close the digital divide in Nashville and to give every family access to technology and training. They are helping us give our students and families the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century. Now we need your help in spreading the word and making sure every family knows about the opportunities and takes advantage of them.

District-charter collaboration leads to transparency, high standards, & real opportunity

by Alan Coverstone, Executive Director of the Office of Innovation

In Nashville, when we first sat down to determine if it would be possible to build a collaborative relationship between our school district and charter school leaders, very few places had tried it. Just a short time later, our District-Charter Collaboration Compact was recognized as one of the first nine nationwide, and charter and district leaders have been building their cooperation ever since. We are learning a great deal with and from each other, and most of the lessons were made possible by the leaders who agreed to explore that first step.

We are fortunate the district leaders and charter leaders who helped develop the compact had the foresight to realize that unless we agreed on the outcomes we expect from our schools, we would never be able to work together effectively. Spending our time trying to show the data on our schools only in the most favorable light, whether in favor of charters or district schools, is a waste of time and contributes to misunderstanding and cynicism. Parents need to know objectively how schools are doing with all schools measured on the same balanced, objective criteria so their school choices will be informed through data.

Our District-Charter Collaboration Compact begins and ends with our shared commitment to high-performing schools for every student in Nashville regardless of whether that high performer is a charter, magnet, design center, enhanced option, or zoned school. Holding all schools to the highest possible standards is good for kids and making the information fair, useable and available for parents is too.

Nashville Public Schools Scorecard

We have taken an important step in that direction with the release of our new Scorecard comparison tool that allows parents to see the same measures for different schools side–by-side. With this information, visits to schools can be even more helpful as parents get to know the people in the building working hard to improve achievement by creating real opportunities for students.

 

Explore the Scorecard

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